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Council delays action on stormwater utility rates

The Port Orchard City Council voted 5-0 to delay action until Oct. 14 on an ordinance that would double the stormwater rates residents currently pay.

Under the proposal, rates would increase Jan. 1 from $7 to $14 per Impervious Surface Unit (ISU), which is based on 3,000 square feet. The extra money above the recommended step increases would be applied toward Capital Improvement Program. In 2015, $4.30 per ISU per month would go to improvements, and in 2016, 80 cents per ISU per month.

During the two-year period, the city would collect more than $600,000 for improvements.

During a public hearing on the ordinance at the Aug. 26 meeting, a handful of residents addressed the council.

Resident Elissa Whittleton said doubling the stormwater rate would put a burden on residents and that the increase should be done in increments.

She said it was stated that anyone hold a business license may be considered “commercial” under the ordinance.

“An impervious surface is an impervious surface and should be accounted for accordingly,” Whittleton said. “I hold a business license and work at home. And to use this tool for determining who pays for impervious surfaces seem irrelevant to the problem.”

Gary Chrey, an attorney representing Gil and Kathy Michael, requested the council delay action so his clients could have more time to review changes to ordinance.

“On behalf of all residents of the City of Port Orchard who are going to find themselves in a situation where the presence or absent of a business license is doing to determine the classification of their (stormwater) account and the level of charge they will be required to pay,” Chrey said. “That the understanding I have. I stand to be corrected.”

He said his clients obtained a copy of the ordinance on Aug. 22.

“We ask for additional time so that we can determine in fact if that is correct and if it is, we believe the city council should enact along with the ordinance specific standards for sewage which the ordinance should be applied to the ratepayers within the city.”

Chrey said 1,507 licenses are issued for business located within city limits, but the city has jurisdiction over 2,642 issued business licenses of people that do business within the city.

Councilman Rob Putaansuu said the ordinance wouldn’t effects “home-based” businesses.

Public Works Director Mark Dorsey said he didn’t know where the matter of “business licenses” came from.

“The stormwater utility is based on impervious surface,” Dorsey said. “Someone

having a home-based business, do they have 3,000 square feet or less? It has nothing to do with having a business license. I’m not sure where that ‘misnomer’ came from.”

On a Facebook posting to the Independent, Whittleton stated: “Technically anyone holding a business license, even if it is to do craft fairs, is subject to the commercial status due to the way the law is written.”

During the hearing, two residents suggested the city look into installing rain gardens.

Dorsey said there a misconception on the utility as opposed to taking care of yards or putting up a rain garden. He noted the city code allows “rain gardens” or “low-impact developments.”

“For a rain garden or low-impact development system to work, you need soils,” Dorsey said.

He said the stormwater utility program isn’t about going to a resident’s backyard and fixing their yard.

“It’s about sweeping streets, cleaning catch basins, cleaning regional stormwater facilities, making capital improvements, education outreach and all sorts of programs that has to do with a regional systems that basically takes care of the Puget Sound,” Dorsey said.

He said residents have an additional impact.

“What you’re doing is helping the Puget Sound,” he said. “That what the utility is.”

Dorsey noted several items approved on the consent agenda that are funded by the stormwater utility: contracts for cleaning out the roadside ditch along State Highway 166 and a storm drainage catch basin and pipe maintenance, stormwater retention pond maintenance and purchasing a street sweeper.

City Attorney Greg Jacoby said the fine for not complying with Department of Ecology requirement is $35,000 per day, according to the Clean Water Act.

Resident Marica Stocking asked the council to consider the increase.

“The increase may not seem like much, but since I am retired and on no COLA and every utility has gone up,” she said. “To me, it means a lot. Think about those of us who are on retirement income.”

Putaansuu said he doesn’t like increasing the stormwater rate, but that the city has an unfunded mandate by the state.

“When we form this utility at $7 (per ISU per month), we were in the middle of an economic recession and we made an effort to do no more than to fund the state’s compliance,” Putaansuu said. “Our utility rates do nothing more than sweep the streets, clean out catch basins and report to the state that we done those activities. If we don’t, we are fined very heavily by the state.”

Pataansuu said the step increase that was proposed by consultants only continues the process and does not fund any capital improvement projects.

“It was the wrong action to take and just to move this up incrementally and not get any projects,” he said. “The thought process was to jump it to $14 and raise $600,000 in the next year so we could address things that are tangible to the citizens to fix flooding and enhance the stormwater drainage system.”

Putaansuu said the improvement projects would address downtown flooding.

Councilman Fred Chang said the mandates are targeted at the smaller cities.

“Seattle is exempt from the same water-quality mandates that we are still trying to meet,” Chang said. “I think this council has chosen to put its focus — rather than on litigation — but to try and solve the problem.”

He said everyone is paying the rates and no one is benefiting from it. Chang noted that rain gardens would not help with larger streets such as Sidney and Bethel.

Councilman Jerry Childs said he not against delaying the rate increase and to look at other options.

“The way we go about (rate increase) is that we try to soften the blow, then we don’t get anything accomplish,” he said. “Then we’re right back doing the same thing over again.”

Councilmembers Cindy Lucarelli and Bek Ashby were absent at the meeting.

Another public hearing is set for the Oct. 14 meeting.

 

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